The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018
2018 for me is about having a deeper connection with spirituality. Since 2016, I had developed an interest in spirituality and last year, I’d been reading a lot on mindfulness. This year is more about maintaining the daily rituals that I had developed such as meditation and morning walks, and reminding myself to reconnect with something larger than me.
I did make some minor tweaks to my routines but fundamentally, the activities are still the same. For example, instead of listening to business podcasts during my morning walks, I started choosing something that is more spiritual and less mind-intensive to help me feel more grounded and peaceful at the start of each day.
Also, I seemed to have less interest in business and self-improvement this year. Perhaps it’s because I don’t find the information relevant anymore or the books I’d read on these topics aren’t very good. So none of the books in these genres make it to the list this year. There are only spiritual and psychology books on this list.
Finally, Reach My Reading Goal
This year, I have read a total of 132 books. I finally reach my goal of reading 100 books a year!
If you are wondering why I’m able to read so many books in a year, that’s because I “read” in three different formats. In the morning, I listen to an audiobook while I go for my morning walk. In the afternoon, I usually read an eBook on my phone when I’m traveling to my student’s house. Then, I read a physical book in the evening after dinner and/or at night before sleep to help me wind down. So there you go, my secret is I read three books a day at different timings.
Read with purpose and intention.
Furthermore, I count rereads and books that I didn’t complete as part of the total. We are taught in school to read word for word from start to finish. But after I did the PhotoReading course years ago, I started to read with intention. It’s important to have a purpose before you read a book. You have to know why you are reading the book. Perhaps you have a specific question in your life that you need answers. Or you want to research or explore a new topic to help you open up your perspectives.
Whatever the case is, it’s good to set an intention before you begin. So if at any point in time, the book fails to serve your purpose, you know it’s time to put down the book and mark it as read. Also, you can skip chapters if you are not interested. Only read the parts that serve your purpose.
Sometimes, I’ll forget this and I get into the mode of reading books that I don’t enjoy just to complete it. I ended feeling bored or disengaged from the book. I wasted time on books that don’t serve me, while I could be reading books that I enjoy. Definitely, something to take better note of for the new year.
Follow What I Read:
The Biggest Discovery This Year is Enneagram
If I were to pick one word to describe my year in 2018, it will be “fine-tuning”. I feel that after I recovered from depression in 2015, I had released a lot of shame and a huge chunk of psychological issues that are blocking me from feeling peaceful. But there is still some minor psychological barrier here and there.
A friend introduced me to Enneagram at the end of last year and I had been reading a lot of books on Enneagram at the beginning of this year. Enneagram has helped me to dig up those remaining psychological issues that I wasn’t conscious of and fine-tune my mind so that I have a better grip of my ego and a deeper connection with my soul.
If you don’t know what Enneagram is, it’s basically a personality system just like MBTI. But it’s far more complicated. And unlike the MBTI, it doesn’t focus on our cognitive functions, it focuses on our inner motivation, desire, and fear.
After studying Enneagram and doing some self-reflection, I have more awareness of my behavioral habits and a better understanding of how my past shaped these habits. It also gives me a direction for growth. So essentially, the system helps you to reconcile your past, focus on the now, and offer you something to work on for the future.
More importantly, it helps you to understand
where other people are coming from.
Once you understand that their motivation is harmless, just different from yours, you are able to see their perspective and understand them better. It’s also easier to forgive them for hurting you and this makes you feel more at peace.
Freeing People from the Prisons of Their Own Making
Each year, I select an education-related charity and donate an amount based on the number of books I’ve read. For the last couple of years, I had been donating to help kids in Cambodia and Ghana get a proper education. This year, I’m doing something different. Since Enneagram has helped me so much over the past year, I want to pay it forward. So I have selected a charity that is related to both the Enneagram and education.
“Treat prisoners just as human beings. Not as another class, not as a lower class of citizenship, not as criminals.” David Daniels
This year, I’ve donated US$132 to the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP). I remember this non-profit organization from a video that my friend shared and I thought it is very meaningful. EPP brings Enneagram programs to inmates to help them understand why they do what they do and give them a sense of hope. It let them know they are not a bad person and help them be more self-compassionate.
Will we make the same mistakes if we are more self-aware?
People make mistakes. We all make mistakes. I always tell my students, “It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn from them. I’m not going to punish you or be angry at you. What good does punishment do when people don’t learn from their mistakes?”
Self-awareness is more important. Not only the youth needs educations; adults need education too. Even as adults, we might not be aware of our habits and the motivations that are driving our behaviors. If we have more self-understanding and awareness, we will not do those things that hurt us and others. Enneagram gives us and the prisoners the map to recognize these patterns, and not repeat the same mistakes. That’s why I feel compelled to donate to EPP this year.
You can read more about what EPP does here.
My Top 10 Favorite Books: 2018 List
I have a rule of thumb though. I only feature one book from the same author for my list. So even if I like two to three books by the same author this year, I only select the one that I like the most.
Disclosure: Please note that the links below are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase, but it will be at no additional cost to you.
1. The Joy of Being by Eckhart Tolle
“The joy of being is derived not from something that happens, or from some object, but from the essence of who you are. To know yourself as that is joy.”
Eckhart Tolle is my go-to spiritual teacher. After reading his book, The Power of Now, in 2016 and realized how similar his experience of spiritual awakening is with mine, I started following his teachings.
What draws me to his teaching is simplicity and clarity. He’s able to point to the stillness within us using easy-to-understand insights, examples, and sometimes humor. When I listen to them speak, I’ll be in deep peace but also laugh out loud at times.
This year, I’ve listened to 16 of his audiobooks, which are basically the recordings of his live seminars and retreats. His book is consistently top 3 in my list. But this year, I think his books deserve to be #1 because I listen to his audiobooks daily during my morning walks since August this year.
All of his books points to the same thing, so it’s difficult for me to pick one book out the 16. However, each time he talks about presence, it still sounds different as he uses different examples and angles to help the audience understand their being.
2. The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
“The process of transforming the heart can be difficult because as we open it, we inevitably encounter our own pain and become more aware of the pain of others.”
Out of all the enneagram books, I have read, my favorite authors on the topic are Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. I read three of their books and I love how organized and comprehensive their writings are.
But I guess it depends on your personality types and how advanced your knowledge of Enneagram is. I probably would have a much tougher time understanding their books if it wasn’t for the introductory lecture that my friend gave on the subject.
And it’s not easy to determine your Enneagram type even after you do the online test. The Enneagram is a complex system with many elements. In fact, it took me six months to realize that I was typed wrongly. And sometimes I get a little too analytical reading books on this topic.
So treat this book as a guide. Put it down several times and refer to it from time to time. Reading it in one seating probably won’t give you all the benefits that it could potentially give you. But if you take the time to reflect on the system and yourself, you will have a customized tool for your personal and spiritual growth.
3. Conversations with God (Book 1) by Neale Donald Walsch
“What’s happening is merely what’s happening. How you feel about it is another matter.”
This book was recommended to me by a friend in May. Initially, I didn’t want to read this book because the word “God” makes me feel a little uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t believe in God. The word “God” can mean different things to different people, so I seldom use that word. I’m also not sure if the God that the author is referring to is the same as what I have experienced.
However, two months later, I saw this advertisement on YouTube. Again, it’s Neale Donald Walsch! In the interview, what he shares about love touches my heart so much that I signed up for his course on Mindvalley. And it’s only after the course that I started reading his books.
This is a rather controversial book though. It offers perspectives that might sound provocative to certain religions. You either love it or you hate it. But because I’m not religious, so this book doesn’t trigger me at all. In fact, many of the things in the book resonate with my direct experiences with spirituality and I love the new insights I receive from this book.
There are three different narrators in the audio version and all of them sound so natural and entertaining. I enjoy listening to their dialogues so much that I listen to the audiobook twice this year!
4. Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
“Body sensations can serve as a guide to reflect where we are experiencing trauma, and to lead us to our instinctual resources.”
Even though mindfulness and my recovery from depression bring me new awareness to my body, I seldom use the body as a starting point for healing and transformation. Usually, I pay more attention to my cognitive processes and belief systems.
This book gives me a new perspective on what the body can do. The premise of this book is that trauma is physiological. Talk therapies can help you understand your trauma but it doesn’t necessarily help you heal your symptoms of trauma or PTSD.
This book addresses the essential role that our body plays in trauma. We can bypass our thoughts and emotions and work with the body directly by self-regulating our bodily sensations. It helps us to work around details of the past that we rather not repeat or talk about.
Furthermore, his books came at the perfect time! Right after reading three of his books, I had a chance to apply what I have learned immediately. I was shaking mildly right before a public interview. Instead of resisting the shaking and over-analyzing the situation, I regulated my bodily sensations by taking mindful breaths and it helped me to calm down tremendously. I was then able to complete the interview without freezing.
5. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”
This author was recommended to me by a friend. He said my writing reminds him of this Catholic priest, so I was curious to check him out.
I don’t know if it’s because of the intriguing title or the front cover. Out of the 40 plus titles that the author had written, somehow I was drawn to this book. But I’m glad that I read this book first because it gave me a great impression of the author and his writing. Within two days, I finished reading the book.
To be honest, I seldom read Christian books. I find them difficult to comprehend and unengaging for readers like me who don’t have much prior knowledge of Christianity and its terminology. But this book is different. Not only is it easy to understand, but it’s also accessible and so universal yet personal that even non-Christians like me are able to relate to it.
This book is about the author’s reflection on his spiritual life through the parable of the Prodigal Son and Rembrandt’s painting of it. It’s about homecoming, asking for forgiveness, unconditional love and compassion, jealousy, and etc. All the things that humans experience in life.
Written beautifully in a vulnerable way, I felt touched by his writing since the beginning and was captivated by the writing till the end.
6. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
“Understanding means throwing away your knowledge. For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
Same as Eckhart Tolle, he is the only other author who makes it to my top 10 list every single year since 2016. According to Goodreads, he’s my most-read author. I’ve read 23 of his books so far. Eckhart Tolle came in a close second with 22 books.
Most people read non-fiction to gain new knowledge. However, reading is not always about the knowledge you gain, sometimes it’s about how the book makes you feel. When I read his books, I just feel peaceful. When I hear him speak, I just feel peaceful. That’s good enough for me.
His words don’t engage the mind. Instead, his teachings are insightful. They bypass the mind and resonate with the heart and the peace within you. And that’s why I enjoy reading his books and read 10 of them this year. This year, I also watched his movie Walk With Me in the cinema and attended a mindfulness session created by a community (Sangha) that practices his tradition.
I’m don’t usually practice rituals or religious ceremony. I had a headache after standing up and bowing in kneel position repeatedly. But it was still quite a good experience overall. I did enjoy the total relaxation and mindfulness movement exercises. And I had a very peaceful afternoon that day.
7. The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
“Buddhist teachings are not a religion, they are a science of mind.”
Out of all the religious books, the ones that I gravitate to the most is the books on Buddhism. Even though I’m a “Buddhist” (was given this religion at birth), my parents didn’t teach me anything about Buddhism. In fact, they know nothing about Buddhism, except to follow the rituals that were passed down by previous generations.
What I love about Buddhism books is that their writings are always kind and compassionate. I can pick any Buddhist book off the library shelf to read and I feel very grounded and loved.
Perhaps it’s because Buddhist teachings sound the least like a religion. It’s more like a way of life and how to train your mind to let go of your false perception. It doesn’t focus too much on the Higher Power or the Divine. But what’s interesting is when you master your mind and connect with your heart, you naturally feel more connected to the Source. So in a way, it’s still spiritual but in a practical way.
This book focuses on Buddhist Psychology and has more than 400 pages but it’s well-written and easy to read. So if you are someone like me who doesn’t like to read about religious dogma but yet still want to learn about the Buddhist teachings, this book will be great for you.
8. Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
“The trick is not to get hooked on the highs and lows and mistake an activated attachment system for passion or love. Don’t let emotional unavailability turn you on.”
This book came about when a student told me that she didn’t understand why she has a fearful-avoidant attachment style when she wasn’t abused in her childhood. I had no idea what attachment style is, so I went online to research and found this book.
This is an interesting book about attachment styles in romantic and platonic relationships. There are three main attachment styles:
- Secure: Feel comfortable with both intimacy and independence,
- Anxious: Crave intimacy but tend to worry whether their partner will love them back,
- Avoidant: Equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
Reading this book makes me understand why some of my friends’ relationships didn’t work out. Even though there is an attraction between the two, the anxious person is always looking for more intimacy, while the avoidant person distances himself from his partner to avoid losing independence. It’s better for anxious or avoidant people to date someone who is secure because it will make them feel more secure. However, they might not find a secure person as attractive initially.
The good thing is attachment style can change over time. Like for me, I’m definitely more anxious-preoccupied in my early 20s. But after I’ve developed a more positive view of myself and have better experiences socially, I’m slowly moving toward the secure attachment style.
9. Inner Bonding by Margaret Paul
“Inner Bonding is a process of connecting our Adult thoughts with our instinctual gut feelings, the feelings of our Inner Child, so that we can live free of conflict within ourselves.”
This book is about being in touch with your abandoned, wounded inner child. What’s interesting is I read this book not long after I published my book, Parent Yourself Again, and realized that our concepts and perspectives are rather similar. Not too surprising though because the concept of reparenting oneself has been around for a few decades. But still, to see what you have used intuitively for yourself in another book is quite amazing.
The main difference though is that the author uses psychotherapy examples from her clients while I use my own experience and self-reflection to explain the concept. Also, she uses the term “Inner Adult”, while I use the term “Inner Parent”.
I love this book because there are many real-life examples from different types of relationship. There are the marital and intimate relationship, the parent-child relationship, friendship, and co-worker relationship. It also explores the problems that these relationships have such as codependency and narcissism.
So not only will you learn how to take care of your Inner Child and heal the deep, painful feelings that it carries, but you also learn how to interact with another person’s Inner Child. In a way, you improve both your relationship with yourself and other people.
10. Wired to Connect by Amy Banks
“Relational neuroscience has been showing that people cannot reach their full potential unless they are in healthy connection with others.”
I borrowed this ebook from the library as part of my research for my new book. The funny thing is weeks later, I went to the physical library and borrowed another book called, Four Ways to Click, only to realize that it’s the exact same book by the same author with a different title!
This book talks about the relationship from the brain science perspective. The premise is that there are four ways to connect with other people and build a healthy relationship, and each of them is directly related to a specific neural pathway.
I’m not that interested in science but I do find the four aspects that define a strong relationship quite intriguing. They form an acronym C.A.R.E and are as follows:
- Calm: A strong relationship with others makes you feel safe and you feel like you can trust the other person.
- Accepted: A healthy relationship gives you a sense of belonging and makes you feel welcomed despite your differences.
- Resonant: In a fulfilling relationship, you feel like you “get” each other.
- Energetic: There is laughter in a good relationship and you enjoy spending time with each other.
This book makes me think about my existing relationships and how I could improve them and seek new relationships that meet these criteria.
Below are a few others good book I read in 2018 which didn’t make it to the list, but worth mentioning:
The Books I Published in 2018
This year, I had written and published one book. It’s the third book in my self-compassion series. Currently, I’m writing my sixth book which also belongs to the same series. Hopefully, I can complete it in the first quarter of next year, if not, by the second quarter.
1. Parent Yourself Again by Yong Kang Chan
The idea for this book came about at the end of 2017 when I was working part-time for my ex-company. Initially, I didn’t want to go back to work. My gut screamed “no”. But in the end, I agreed and later felt stressed at work.
During meditation one morning, I realized that I often neglect the little voice inside of me that is dying to be heard. I didn’t listen to or consult this voice before I made the decision. And this voice resembles the young “me” who often felt neglected and ignored too by the people around him.
So I called this voice, the Inner Child, a term commonly used in pop psychology. Whether you believe that you have an inner child or not, it’s doesn’t matter. Our brain stores past trauma and unresolved feelings.
Giving it a name actually helps to create a space between my True Self and my past experiences. Whenever my old feelings get triggered, I was able to separate myself from the pain and not get too absorbed in the drama. I was then able to soothe my inner child and be more compassionate toward myself from a third-person perspective. This helps to heal my past wounds consciously.
This book isn’t just about parenting the inner child, but it’s also about retraining our inner parent. Often times, we pick up unfavorable parenting traits from our parents and society. This book helps us to reflect how we could be a better parent to our inner child.